Apr. 14, 2015

Gary Bennett


Gary Bennett

General Director, Seguros Monterrey New York Life

"Ours is quite a sophisticated marketplace."


With over 30 years in the insurance industry, Gary Bennett has held leadership positions of increasing responsibility with various companies in Australia and the Asia Pacific, including Prudential Corporation Asia and CMG Asia. He joined New York Life in 2005 as President and CEO in its life insurance operations in Hong Kong, and also in last he has served as CEO in India and China. He has recently run his own consultancy. He is responsible for directing the strategic vision of Seguros Monterrey New York Life, working on strengthening and development of the company through the leadership team that currently make up the company.

Your projected growth rate for 2015 is 11% compared to an expected growth rate of 3.6% for the Mexican insurance sector. What is driving that growth?

Over the past year, everybody has been talking about the tremendous opportunity of the Mexican market, both in terms of its emerging economy and of the consistent growth of the middle class, which is where life insurance and financial services take hold as an economy evolves and grows. Some companies have conducted terrific research on the inflection point of an industry and where growth really kicks in, which is indexed to GDP growth, and with the subsequent growth of personal and family income. Mexico has been at that point for a while now. Capitalizing on this situation presents the challenge, and the reason we feel comfortable about outperforming the market is based on our expectations, as well as our fundamentals. Firstly, we are financially robust—perhaps the strongest in the life insurance segment in Mexico. The support of New York Life, one of the world's few AAA rated life insurance companies with massive capital strength, gives us the confidence to approach the market from a growth perspective, as does the financial support and commitment of an organization like Seguros Monterrey. Another factor is that this year we celebrate 75 years in the Mexican market. We have strong foundations here, as well as brand recognition, and proven success and reliability. We enjoy long-term relationships with our distributors, partners, agents, brokers, and customers. Through that platform, there are a number of areas where we can grow more aggressively over the next couple of years, particularly starting in 2015. The opportunity to broaden our distribution channel in life insurance and individual life insurance, which is what we specialize in, and which forms the major part of our business, is sold on an individual face-to-face basis by professionally trained life insurance agents. If you look at the opportunity that Mexico offers and the size of the distribution force in the local marketplace, vis-à-vis the US for example, Mexico requires a further 135,000 insurance salespeople. As a result, the market is underserved in terms of services, products, and distribution. The US has a market penetration of 18%, which is still not that high, whereas Mexico has a market penetration of just 2.1%. Therefore, Mexico needs the salespeople, agents, and distributors to increase that figure, which is where our potential lies.

You are also planning to establish a real estate company. What opportunities do you see in that business line?

Real estate provides certain advantages, one of which is diversification of asset class and investment for our policyholders. We want to ensure that we have attractive and strategic investments on offer. Fixed interest equities, bonds, government bonds, corporate bonds, and property are all logical longer-term investment classes. Establishing a real estate business gives us the opportunity to broaden out our asset class for our policyholders to invest in, allowing us to leverage locations as we continue to expand across Mexico. But more importantly, this is an asset class for our investors. Life insurance companies in most markets have a diversified portfolio, which real estate enables.

What is your opinion on the regulatory framework in the Mexican market and competition in the life insurance sector?

Ours is quite a sophisticated marketplace. This has been attested to by the introduction of Solvency II into the Mexican marketplace, which from a life insurance perspective is crucial. It means that the lawmakers understand the significant role that financial services play in individual families' lives, and also that life insurance and financial services help build economies. By making the right investments, we will impact both infrastructure and economies. Solvency II brings rigor, compliance, and requirements that now reside on boards, and introduces significant committees with reference to the key parts of the business, particularly in ordered compliance, governance, and the risk of the business. It means that we have a marketplace that is as sophisticated as anywhere else in the world. Mexico speaks the language of insurance, and of compliance, and understands the responsibility we hold and role we play in the community, and as part of the growing economy. The fact that this environment is in place in Mexico means I don't have to work as hard at selling that concept to shareholders, or to a board. It enables us to operate, build, and grow a business the way we need to.

“Ours is quite a sophisticated marketplace."

What do you expect for the year ahead?

We are focused on 11% growth for 2015, which is what we have committed to both publically, and also to the board and management team. The other initiatives I mentioned regarding diversification of distribution, further growing our traditional agency marketplace, and ensuring that we have improved service and telemarketing, will all contribute to achieving it.

© The Business Year - April 2015